Up here in the hinterlands, far from streaming Internet access, we resort to the neighborly passing around of DVDs to survive the long winter nights. The DVD that came to us last night was Thor, which I can sum up with only three phrases: pretty stars, plodding “tension”, stinky cheese.
At two hours and five minutes, Thor is an hour and ten minutes too long. This Kenneth Branagh affair (he directed and otherwise spooged all over it) stars a former Australian soap opera star in the title role. Chris Hemsworth’s main contribution to the movie is his God-like physique; I tried to like this Thor, I really did, but the old comic book character in my memory easily trumped the living actor.
Thor is one of the earlier Marvel Avengers series movies, and probably the worst in the franchise. The only reason to watch this movie, as with too many comic book movies of late, is the CGI, which is stunning and extremely rich. I suppose if you just scored an eighth and you’re really into Viking helmets, you might also enjoy Thor.
Rather than summarize the plot (which I already did, with just the phrase “stinky cheese”), I’ll point out a few plot holes and some partially decomposed dialogue. A few scenes in, Thor and his buddies from Asgard take the Bifrost (a wormhole bridge in their part of the universe) over to Yodenheim, the ice planet of the frost giants, on a flawed mission of retribution. While the male Vikings are suitably dressed in shiny chainmail, flowing capes, and well-groomed beards (the red-haired dude crimped his), the female Viking is wearing a halter-top and high heels. While I can appreciate the need for a sexy Viking babe in an otherwise boring scene, I shook my head when she broke into a run in stiletto boots, across a sheet of ice. Not even a god can do that.
Down on earth, the action is centered around a small town in New Mexico, on the edge of the desert. Jane (Natalie Portman) is apparently an astrophysicist, supported by a team of one old Scandinavian guy and a slightly chubbier brunette, her student intern or something. All three characters combined are not as smart as one real astrophysicist. Jane’s first line, spoken to Thor after he falls through a wormhole and she smacks him with her car, set the tone for her character: “Do me a favor and don’t be dead.” It sounded even worse the second time around, when the scene was repeated after Thor’s 20-minute long, synthesizer heavy flashback. A relationship is concocted for Jane and Thor, in a process that reminded me of extruding play dough spaghetti. They have all the chemistry of a science fair volcano; watching them emote on each other forced me to reconsider my previously good opinion of Natalie Portman.
Thor was banished from Asgard by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), and although Thor was tossed down to earth in his Viking outfit, he wakes up in a T-shirt and jeans. Anthony Hopkins seems resigned to his role in this Gouda fest; despite an eye patch, he sticks to two main facial expressions: kinglike and comatose (for when he enters a coma). Thor’s hammer follows him down to earth, but he has lost the ability to wield it, so it sits chemically bonded to a crater in the desert. A pointless scene of drunken yahoos trying to yank it out with their fists and trucks is fabricated just so Stan Lee can have his mandatory cameo (as a drunken yahoo). It’s like they had to insert a bunch of fatter, stupider characters first, so Stan would look reasonably good by comparison. Oh, and Rene Russo plays Odin’s Viking Queen, which in the actual legend of Valhalla is a very important role—the divine feminine, essentially. In this movie she has three bland lines and five minutes of screen time.
Loki is Thor’s younger, unhunky brother, and something of the royal whipping boy—I forgot the actor’s name, and, hopefully, will soon forget his performance. In Norse mythology, Loki is a trickster, mischievous but neither good nor bad (and definitely not a whipping boy). Here he is the main bad guy, prancing about in a Kelly green cape and a bunny eared helmet. He’s saturnine by nature (he was a born a baby frost giant, King Odin rescued and raised him), and a magician; he can replicate his image, and seemingly travel the space-time continuum at will. Though the screenwriters made an effort to explain some of the film’s “science facts”, they didn’t touch that one.
Loki crowns himself king while Odin is in a self-induced coma, then sends a shiny metal robot knight down to earth to fight Thor and crew in the little New Mexican town. There was heavy product placement in this scene: an Acura raced by, a fat guy drank a Budweiser in front of the Bank of America, and the robot knight blew up a 7-11. Thor, now a mortal without his hammer, is defeated by the robot knight; he collapsed as quiet, reflective music told me how to feel. Jane weeps over her dying hunk of man, maintaining some level of dignity as sunlight blazes off the robot knight’s giant metal ass. At this moment, Thor has fulfilled his destiny; his hammer rises up out of the desert and flies into his waiting meat hook, he is a Marvel superhero once more. An epic battle ensues between Thor 2.0 and the robot knight (whom I instantly rooted for—he didn’t speak once, but was the most interesting character in the whole movie); they exchange A-bomb level energy blasts without breaking a single window or bursting one pipeline. Well done, continuity team.
I apologize for going into low-grade plot summary (but it was a low-grade plot, let’s be honest); there was no way to explain the series of biffs and fumbles that is Thor without it. So what did I actually like about Thor? Its gorgeous CGI: there were deep space star clusters, a golden mead hall in Asgard, and a pastel and chrome mythical city. Especially the star clusters. I wish the whole two hours were just a tour of deep space, actually. Some, not all, of the costumes were cool—where was Thor’s helmet, hmm? That’s a major part of his outfit in the myth and the Marvel comic book, but here his Bondi beach blonde locks were his only protection. The soundtrack could have been replaced by random hold music and I wouldn’t have noticed. I’ll give Thor one and half stars, out of respect for the CGI artists. Kenneth Branagh, should we ever cross paths I will retroactively apply the rules of Elizabethan theater and pelt you with a sack load of rotten cabbages. Boo!